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Re: common time-management mistake: rack & stack
From: Chad Dailey <nanog () thedaileyplanet com>
Date: Fri, 17 Feb 2012 11:26:12 -0600

On Fri, Feb 17, 2012 at 11:15 AM, George Bonser <gbonser () seven com> wrote:

-----Original Message-----
From: Leo Bicknell [mailto:bicknell () ufp org]
Sent: Friday, February 17, 2012 6:46 AM
Subject: Re: common time-management mistake: rack & stack

Low level employees should be apprenticed by higher level employees.
Many of our skills are learned on the job; just like other trades
someone with only book knowledge is darn near useless.  Not only do
those above need to teach, but they need to supervise, and exercise
standards and quality control.

+1  I believe that can not be stressed enough. There is also another
aspect to it in that about 15% of the population of people are "abstract"
thinkers and 85% are "concrete" thinkers.  The abstract thinkers are the
ones who can come up with a vision in their head of how something should
work as a system and then set out and build it.  Or when they are faced
with a problem, can in their head envision the work around and then apply
that vision on site to do things such as rewire a portion of the network in
a methodical fashion with no/little downtime.  Those people are relatively
rare and working with your line staff gives one an opportunity to assess
the various talent sets of the people in the organization.  The abstract
thinkers are the ones good at being able to design a network from scratch
and the concrete thinkers are the ones who will be great maintaining that
network and keeping everything documented and done according to policy.
 You need both and it just so happens that you need more of one sort in
just about the same proportion that you find them in the general
population.  The key is to identify which people have which talents and
place them where their natural abilities more closely mesh with their job
requirements.  If you can do that, you can have a very powerful team.  If
you place people into positions simply based on the number of years in the
organization or because of holes punched in the cert ticket, you might end
up with people in positions that they don't really like or aren't
particularly good at doing.  The first step in building such an
organization, though, is working closely with your people and attempting to
identify whose natural abilities like in which direction.  Sometimes it is
more about talent than training, more about nature than nurture.

To your point, if you look at skilled trades the simpler the task the
more likely it will fall to the "new guy".  Rack and stack is probably
one of simplest jobs in our industry.  A two man team, one senior, one
junior, showing up at a colo may see the junior guy doing the physical
work, while the senior guy works out any issues with the colo provider
brings up the interconnection to them, etc.

But at the same time, if you have a guy who might not be so sharp at
troubleshooting a very complex network but is sharp as a tack when it comes
to documenting things and keeping paperwork organized, that is a vital
skill in the overall effort, too.  That person should be given
responsibility for maintaining more of the documentation, organizing things
so they are easy for other employees to find, etc. and their pay should
still continue to increase as they gain wider scope across more of the
organization over time.  The point is that it often takes many different
sorts of skills and attempting to match people's natural talents to the
requirements of the organization benefits both parties provided the
individual involved doesn't see their position as a dead end.  A good
person of the sort mentioned above can literally save hours of time for
people doing other tasks such as troubleshooting a problem.  There is a
certain synergy involved and some organizations recognize that, and some
don't.  Some are better in an architectural role, some are naturally better
in a sustaining role, others are better at an organizational support role
and (darned) few are good at all of those tasks.  Sometimes we don't have
the luxury of such specialization of roles, but some organizations do,
particularly if they are in a phase of reorganization and downsizing.  One
thing to look at might not only be "how good is this person in their
current role" but also "would this person absolutely kick butt in a
different role".

But key to an apprenticeship is that the senior guy does some of the
low level work some of the time, and _shows_ the junior guy how to do
it right.  The senior guy might rack or stack a couple of boxes each
colo they visit, and relate concepts like how the screw hole spacing
works in the rack rails, how to plan cable management, proper labeling,
and so on.

Actually, just having the senior person assist with some tasks such as
moving/installing heavy/unwieldy gear does more than just show them how to
do it right, it is actually quite an important almost sort of bonding
experience between employees.  It says "I'm not allergic to work and not
above doing the same job you are doing when it needs to get done, we are
all important pieces of the big picture."  It can give an employee a sense
that they are respected and appreciated for the job they do, even if it is
fairly low on the corporate org chart.  It is still vital to the success of
the overall business or they wouldn't be there to begin with.  Doing things
like this telegraphs that in a tangible way without having to spew a lot of
corporate propaganda.

It really accomplishes much of what everyone else is talking about,
while still being productive.  The "old hat" gets the downtime and
catharsis of doing a simple, yet productive task.  The new guy gets to
learn how to do the job properly.  The employer knows the work has been
done right, as it was overseen by the old hat, and that they will have
someone to replace him when the old hat retires.

The "old hat" still gets job satisfaction from seeing a vision come to
physical life and operate as planned.  Why deprive them of that?  It can
re-energize one's love of a particular carrier field and remind them why
they are in that field to begin with.

Maybe if we did more apprecenship style learning folks would still know
how to wrap cables with wax string.  It's simple, fast, and works well.

Leo, in many trades, telecommunications being one of them, the military
was one source of new people with some skills and with some hands-on
experience.  As that scales back these days, it gets harder to find such
people.  We don't have trade schools and we don't have apprenticeship
programs like companies used to have so I agree.  People coming out of a
community college or a certification program know enough to be extremely
dangerous (sort of like a lieutenant with a screwdriver, the most dangerous
person in the world aside from a corporal with a clipboard) and need to be
mentored as they gain perspective in real world situations.  I completely
agree that we should be looking more at our employees in the longer term as
a nurturing process and identifying where their natural interests and
abilities can benefit both sides of the equation.  Having that interaction
with the senior staff is vital.  And that senior staff member should not
only be explaining WHAT he is doing, but WHY he is doing it that way.

Knowledge transfer should also include the very important WHY NOT to do
something a certain way.  This part is often left out.  Considering that
most bit-twiddler tasks can be performed a multitude of ways, both sides of
the argument should be presented.  Perhaps this is obvious to all on the
list, but it's certainly not to junior staff.

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